Media, Mission, and Batman

Consider the state of the American media culture, straight off today's front pages:

"The Dark Knight," the latest in the Batman movie series, took in a record $155 million in its opening weekend, knocking off another superhero flick, "Spider-man 3," to claim the top-grossing box office ever.

The television reality show "American Idol" is raising millions of dollars for charity over the past two years, using its talent-oriented, interactive format as a platform for connecting with Americans and their generous tendencies.

Social networking sites are growing at exponential rates, as people of all ages connect and reconnect over the Internet.

It's a far cry from the original Batman TV show many of us grew up watching. (Remember Adam West?) Or "Star Search." Or rotary phones.

It's obvious that Americans continue to use and consume developing media at a rapidly growing pace. That we live in a fast-changing media world is no surprise. That the Church has been painfully slow to communicate in that world is unfortunate to say the least.

Throughout history, the Church has been at the forefront of using new forms of communication to spread the Gospel. Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1439 and some 15 years later the machine-printed Bible was born. From then on, it's clear that Christians used every available means to get the Word into as many places as possible.

Fast forward to the 1920s and the infant radio industry gave broadcasting capabilities to Christian preachers. The 1950s brought the same opportunity to television. Almost as soon as a new way to mass communicate was created, Christians were using it for God's glory.

Sometime in the last 50 years the Church seems to have lost its media-minded, aggressive edge. Somewhere along the way, the Church began to believe it dictated both the message and the medium. Today the Church lags behind many other secular industries in online video, audio, text messaging, cell phone video, social networking, blogging, and a host of other available communication tools.

Ironically, it is the pornography and sports industries that are now leveraging new media to their advantage. Many of the nation's once booming Christian nonprofit media organizations struggle to understand why younger generations don't relate to 20-year-old technologies and programming.

The Church once believed every new form of communication represented a new mission field. Today we argue about power point slides in church or how those "crazy college kids" on YouTube are ruining their futures.

The American culture (and all of the demographic ages it represents) is changing how it creates, receives, and spreads information. As in history past, the Church needs to be on the front lines of media. The message of the Gospel is timeless and unchanging – it's only the methods by which we reach our culture that should adapt. But they must do so to communicate the Gospel's relevance.

I pray we are humble enough to drop our old paradigms and be aggressive about advancing the Kingdom. We need to learn from our ancestors and use all forms of communication available to us.